El Rio Marchant

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Hola Hola,
Right now, I'm in the Bogota airport, en route back to the USA. I'm overwhelmed in many ways. My three months in Chile have been amazing. Incredible mountains, jungle, adventures, friends, blue whales, orcas, and some excellent scientific exploration. The good news is that I have plenty of adventures yet to relate. Over the next month or so I'll keep sorting through pictures and recount the good stuff. Y espero que para traducir los blog posts en espagnol tambien, para nuestros lectores Chilenos.

El Rio Marchant:
After three months, I feel like we accomplished an incredible amount. At the same time I feel like I've barely touched the surface of what Melimoyu has to offer. For example, it took three months before I got to "explore upper Marchant" on my checklist of things to accomplish.

Marcello, who lives in Melimoyu, told me a while back about a stream that was full of trout, maybe a four hour walk up the Marchant. There's no path up there, yet, so you walk along the banks and cross from bank to bank as necessary. Warren has floated the river from above, and had marked what we thought was the same stream with a GPS, so we had a good idea of where we were going.
Sebastian and I decided it was worth hauling a kayak upstream and paddling when possible, so we could spend more time going up, get farther, and float back quickly.

The Marchant landscape is totally different from that of the Colonos. The Colonos winds through the jungle, almost hidden by the thick vegetation and unless there's been a lot of rain, the Colonos flows pretty quietly, at least down low. The Marchant, on the other hand, while surrounded by jungle, has lots of open space, and the trees and vegetation on the banks are different species. The river flows so fast in places that it's not possible to ford across, even though the water is generally less than 2m deep (at least where we measured). Here's a picture of Sebastian with the kayak, right before we passed it across a rapid. It flipped in the process.

So we bailed it out:
We called that part of the river 4 rios, since the marchant splits into 4 distinct flows for a few hundred meters before coming back together again. Check out the sweet ridge line in the background. You can only see that ridge from certain spots. In most places there are other mountains or thick jungle blocking the view.

The rock beaches in the Marchant can stretch for over a kilometer and the rocks that cover them are fascinating. The one below because of the lichen.

Very cool lichens (on rock in picture above) and bryophytes and mosses (picture below).

Here's a neat fungus that we found on the bottom of a tree:

As we got close to the tributary we were hoping to fish, the hour was getting late and light was going quickly. We had to turn around if we wanted light for the trip back. It took us about 6 hours to get to our endpoint, where we were still 1 km from the tributary. It can take a full day to reach a lot of the exciting things Melimoyu has to offer. Even though we didn't make the tributary, we did get to see 3 new waterfalls.

The wide open spaces on the Marchant are very different from the jungle guarded Colonos (see the first picture in this post from February to see a fairly open part of the Colonos). The rivers are a world apart, despite their proximity.
Melimoyu is a big place, and it's incredibly diverse in landscape (as well as in flora and fauna).

Our ride downstream was exciting. We got a little bold after successfully navigating some tight rapids and may or may not have flipped our boat at the end... By the time we got back to the house, we had to find the entrance from the bay in the dark. It was, as always, an exciting day in Melimoyu.

Last few days in Melimoyu

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If I didn't take careful notes of what happened each day, I'd be lost. Even as the days are clearly shorter (it's autumn, here), a lot happens between dawn and dark. A quick sampling from my last week in Melimoyu:

Photo1: A black browed Albatross bullies seagulls to win fish discards. Seeing an Albatross is great, but watching an Albatross bully seagulls for fish scraps is awesome. Everyone who's had their lunch at the beach taken by a seagull knows exactly what I mean.

Photo2: A new waterfall on the route to the volcano. Excellent drinking, too. No need to filter.

Photo3: LEECHES! I found this little friend while spending a night in the jungle. I didn't have any salt, so we experimented. Hot water will remove a leech. Coffee grinds and fresh orange will not remove a leech. We did not control to see if hot water will still remove leeches without coffee grinds and orange beforehand, in case you were wondering. YOU can try that one at home.

Photo4: We were on the water the day this boat sank. Three people from this boat, la Rosita V, died that day. Our captain, Alex, decided it was too rough and we turned back before leaving the Channel. A good decision, I think.

Photo5: A glimpse of the elusive and beautiful snow-capped south summit of Melimoyu. Still virgin.

update from the road

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Hello all,
At this point I'm in Castro, Chiloe. We're on the road from Melimoyu to Santiago. It's been a while since I've updated, so we'll start with the volcano-exploratory-mission update sent to the team:

Two days ago, Sebastian and I set up camp and spent the night at the end of the trail, a good 1.5 km from the waterfall by direct line. I was optimistic and we started cutting early in the morning. (Despite a previous agreement to cut a small path to the glacier, the trail workers have yet to finish their contracted path to the waterfall, which itself is 3-4 km from the vegetation line.) After a full day of cutting, we found ourselves exhausted and with only 400m of usable path (in addition to several hundred meters of dead ends, including a waterfall). We now understand why it took the last party over a month just to reach the glacier.
     Given my limited time left in Melimoyu, and the upcoming weather window, Sebastian and I decided that this was not the time to cut path for a summit attempt. Rather than spending good weather days cutting through miserable bamboo thickets, we hope to climb another of the many beautiful first ascents available in Melimoyu (and get a few more CTD casts/tagged fish).
The south summit still waits. But for us, likely not this year.

1) View of the endless bamboo that we were cutting through. Picture taken from the top of a tree that Sebastian climbed.

2) Me at the sharp end, so to speak. Standing about 4 feet above the forest floor on bamboo. At least there wasn't much rain in the afternoon.


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A quick note from the mother ship.  If all goes to plan, we won't hear from Pete for a few days, beginning this Thursday past.  He has undertaken an expedition to summit the Melimoyu volcano.  Even with Pete's near super-human strength of spirit, this venture is likely to take nearly a week.

We wish him good fortune on his ascent, and a safe trip home.  May the volcano have mercy.

-Nick Record, signing off


In Melimoyu, the rainforest floor glows

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Pete Stetson reporting:

One thing I've learned in my time here, at the base of the Melimoyu Volcano, is don't wait to take the picture. There's so much to discover and explore here, that it's easy to see something interesting and think, "oh, neat, I should take a picture of that later, when I have a free minute".  If you wait, chances are things will have changed and the picture won't exist anymore: clouds come in and cover the volcano, or we get a really high tide and the birds move from the grasses at the upper-intertidal, or the wind picks up and the water clarity changes, you get the idea.

Well, tonight I was up late, looking at the CTD data and editing my thesis, so it was my job to turn off the generator. Once the generator goes off, this place becomes incredibly quiet; it's worth staying up just to hear it. As I walked back to the house, I was thinking about the glowing leaves that we saw on the jungle floor when we spent the night up on the hill for the tsunami. I had this feeling that I should hike up there to take the picture before it wasn't there to take anymore. But, given that it was already 1:30 AM and raining, I was more inclined to head to bed, or at least inside to finish up my notes from the day. So, in a compromise of sorts, I walked back to the house in the dark to see if we had anything that glows nearby.

We do.

Inside the bark of some dead trees (species to be identified tomorrow), I found a really bright source of glowing light (bright relative to the pitch black of the dense jungle, that is).  If there's any ambient light from the moon, you need to do a glow-test by covering the source with your hand and putting your eyes up close. This way you can be sure you're not seeing reflected moonlight.

I went to get my camera and setup for the shot. It took a couple tries, but check out picture one: an 8 minute exposure of the glowing inside-tree bark. There was no artificial light source, and very little ambient moonlight through the rain clouds.

Picture two is the exact same shot, but taken much faster (~1second exposure) and with my headlamp on. My watch is also in the shot for scale.

So, yes, the rainforest floor in Melimoyu glows.



Pete Stetson reporting

Early last month, the Patagonia Sur team decided to bring a CTD from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, Maine to Melimoyu, Chile. A CTD is a Conductivity, Temperature, and Depth profiler. With these three measurements, you to determine the density of seawater. When I post our first data, I'll discuss the CTD more and explain why the data it collects are interesting. For now, it's enough to know the CTD is a large, very precise, and expensive scientific instrument.

After the CTD spent about a month in customs, it arrived here in Melimoyu, yesterday morning! Based on the stickers pasted on the box, it took several flights, an "express" bus ride, a trip from Coyhaique in a truck, and then a ferry ride when weather kept us from making it north to pick it up in Raul Marin Balmaceda.

We were up before 6AM to meet the ferry, which didn't show up until 7AM. Picture 1 shows the box it came in. People on the boat asked if we had a rocket in the crate.

Once we had the CTD on land, I set to work communicating with the unit and running diagnostic tests (picture 2, coffee in hand). When the CTD and computer were talking nicely, I was pumped. When the diagnostic tests ran well, I was super pumped (picture 3).

We planned an afternoon assault on Melimoyu Bay. That is, we planned an ambitious 20 stations that would thoroughly cover the inner part of the bay. See map below. Each diamond was a station we sampled, yesterday. Base Marchant (blue star) is where the house is (at the base of the Marchant River). The map is oriented with North up.

Picture 4 is the CTD going into the water and Picture 5 is how we hauled the CTD. No winch here, folks. Suffice to say, by station 17, I was fried. I was more than happy to accept Alex's offer to help haul the CTD at the last few stations (Picture 6). I estimate that I hauled about 1.7 kilometers of CTD line, and Alex another 300m. It was a solid day of sampling.
We were off the water around 7PM and just in time since weather was moving in quickly (we had snow on the mountain tops around the bay this morning).

After we got back, it was time to see if the CTD worked. Because the diagnostics went well in the morning, I was hopeful for good data, but I knew there was no guarantee that the instrument saved anything. It was a gamble to do 20 stations without water-testing the unit first. But, I decided it was worth the risk, since we lost so much time with the CTD in customs.
I spent a few hours working with the raw data, trying to get readable information. But, other than seeing that there was a file for each cast (each time we sent the CTD to the bottom), I couldn't get any information from the files. Did we haul 2 kilometers of CTD line for nothing???
I went to bed frustrated, but hopeful that the team back in Maine could help with the problem in the morning.

(to be continued...)







More Orcas!

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Pete Stetson reporting:

Even though we have Orcas in the Gulf of Maine, I have yet to see them there (in person, anyway). Today, we saw Orcas in Melimoyu for the second time this season! These pictures were taken in Refugio Channel. We encountered a family of at least six whales, including two kiddos (yes, that's a technical term). The first shot gives a bit of perspective to the fjord, though the high peaks are in the clouds. The second and third photo were taken as the pod swam right by our boat. You can see the little one's blow in shot two, and the little one's head poking out behind mom in photo three (note: don't know if it's mom, but orcas tend to travel with their mothers). We saw the whales regularly as they swam south in the channel with us. For the most part they seemed to be transiting the channel, like us, but at one point, while I was sampling, they stopped by a rock with some sea lions. We didn't see anything tossed into the air, but they clearly spent more time there than anywhere else in the channel. After their snack (?), they swam past us again, and eventually, they skipped town and we last spotted them heading east into Melimoyu Bay.




Darwin's frog - Rhinoderma darwinii

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Pete Stetson reporting:

After two months of searching, we finally found a Darwin's frog! We were hiking in the rain with some guests, and one of the guests saw a frog jump off the path. When we got up to the frog and saw it was a Darwin's frog, we were super pumped. Darwin's frogs are officially in Melimoyu, and have now been documented on both sides of the Marchant river!

The frogs were first discovered by Darwin, and they have rather interesting brooding behavior: after the eggs hatch, the males take the tadpoles into their mouths and keep them there while they develop.

It was an exciting, even if very wet, day




Tsunami in Melimoyu

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Pete Stetson reporting:

On the morning of the 11th, we woke up to the terrible news that there had been a devastating earthquake and tsunami in Japan and that the entire west coast of north and south america were on tsunami alert. E-mails started pouring in from GMRI and we started putting together our plan of action. We watched the national news channel, which reported on the situation all day. They even had a Chilean oceanographer join the new crew to interpret the tidal signals in the pacific, and eventually Chile.
     As an oceanographer, I was both terrified by the destructive power of the tsunami and excited about the possibility of capturing one with the tidal sensor I had in the Bay. Late in the evening however, I realized that the sensor, which was recording only every 10 minutes, might miss the wave (depending on what kind of tidal signal we received). I had another sensor measuring the tidal signal up the Colonos river, and I ran up to get it. I changed the recording interval to 10 seconds and was ready to put the wetsuit on to place it in the bay next to the sensor already there.
     The Chilean government decided to evacuate the entire coast to at least 30m in altitude. That meant, we, and the people of Melimoyu had to move to higher ground. The 50 people of the town were planning to the night in the pass to Seno Gala and the 11 of us were going up into the jungle above the house.

  At this point (as I was heading to get my wetsuit), it was just before midnight and Sebastian announced that the wave was expected to arrive earlier at a station down the coast and that we had to evacuate in the next 10 minutes. I asked Sebastian to wait for me and I ran down to the water. Unable to access the other sensor (which is about 100m offshore and in ~4m of water), and not wanting to head into the jungle for the night soaking wet, I waded out as far as I could and threw the sensor into the bay. I hoped that it was deep enough, and ran back to the house, glad the wave didn't hit Melimoyu while I was on the beach.
     The models predicted about a .25m wave nearby in Puerto Montt, but the way the government was handling the situation, we were not sure whether we'd get any wave or a 3m wave. (As it turned out, just north of here, in Quellon, they got a 3m wave.)
     We all packed our tsunami bags, in case the house was washed away, and we started climbing into the jungle. We set up a camp with several tents and tarps and settled in for the night. Someone even brought up a 12 pack and spirits were good. An interesting side-note: in the jungle, there are dead leaves that very gently glow. It took about 10 minutes for my eyes to adjust enough to see them, but there were lots. The jungle floor was glowing! My guess is that bioluminescing bacteria are consuming the dead leaves.

The next morning we woke up, safe, and I went to check what the shallow sensor picked up. The sensor, which is depth activated, only turned on as the wave arrived. It looked like a tsunami signal, but I needed the second sensor to verify the findings. They did! 
     The first plot shows the deep sensor with the tide from around midnight on the 11th until 4PM on the 12th. You can see the regular and smooth up and down of the tide until around 3AM on the 12th. That's when the signal gets really interesting. The variation in sea level is from the tsunami entering Melimoyu Bay! That's our tsunami! As you can see, the energy from the wave was still in the bay 12 hours after the event.

The second plot shows again the deep sensor signal, and also the shallow sensor. The blue dots (around 1m in depth) are the shallow sensor data. The red dots are the shallow sensor data projected to a similar depth as the deep sensor. What's awesome is that the two data sets line up really well. We captured a tsunami!

The wave in Melimoyu bay was ~30cm in amplitude and had an initial period of ~30 minutes.
It was exciting, for sure, and I'm glad we're all safe and sound.



Studying the trout population in Melimoyu

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Pete Stetson reporting:

One of our projects this year is to start gathering data on the fish populations in the rivers of Melimoyu. The nearby rivers are entirely within the Patagonia Sur property and virtually untouched. From a scientific perspective, this is really exciting because it means that the fish populations have been able to develop with little interference from humans (never-mind the fact that trout are an introduced species in Chile).

The biggest river is the Marchant, which is fed directly by the Melimoyu glacier and several tributaries. This time of year, though, the water of the Marchant is filled with sediment and brown in color (not the best for trout fishing). One of the Marchant's larger tributaries is the Colonos river, to which we conveniently have pretty good access.

The main fish in the rivers are rainbow trout (Orcorhynchus mykiss) and brown trout (Salmo trutta). We're also interested in seeing whether escaped salmon from the salmon farms are making it into the river. As well, we are looking at the how the tides affect river depth in the rivers. More on the salmon and tidal studies later. 

To uniquely identify each fish we've caught, we're using hallprint fish tags (see their website for more info on the tags http://www.hallprint.com/1327/1354.html ). Below are photos of a 57cm rainbow trout with a tag just before release back into the Colonos and a 32cm brown trout being measured (before being tagged and released). Each fish caught in the rivers here is recorded: date, time, location, species, photo, health at release, and tag number (if applicable). With the unique tags, we can use this information to observe fish growth, movement, and eventually population estimates.



If fishing for work weren't sweet enough, another part of this project is exploring new ponds and lakes as well as unexplored sections of the river (all in order to learn more about the general fish population). The third photo is me fishing in an un-fished lake (until yesterday). Photo four is a larger perspective on the lake, taken on an earlier visit. After several hours, of fishing several locations in the lake while we mapped the shoreline and measured depths from a small inflatable boat, I didn't get a single bite or see a single fish. The deepest measured point was about 10m (~33 feet) and the walls of the lake were generally very steep. We did see water bugs, large (~5m in height) aquatic plants, and large (2'') tadpoles. On the eastern side, there is a fantastic island that consists entirely of moss and the eastern shore is full of steep moss walls that extend to 4-5 meters depth.


Given the altitude of the lake, it's reasonable to expect no fish here (without being directly introduced, a fish at some point in history needs to swim to a body of water from the sea; generally this can be done in a stream that doesn't have large waterfalls). An interesting note: higher up the same mountain, there is another lake that purportedly does have fish in it... perhaps. We shall see.